Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Invasion

Having heard over the years that Janet Lewis's novel The Invasion is worth reading, I decided to buy it and find out. It is worth reading. I did find a second reading useful to sort out the considerable number of persons and places.

The subtitle of The Invasion is A Narrative of Events Concerning the Johnston Family of St. Mary's. St. Mary's is the Sault Ste. Marie, the rapids discharging Lake Superior towards Lake Huron. The Johnstons were the descendants of a John Johnston of Port Rush in Ireland, a member of the Protestant Ascendancy, who moved to Canada, took up the fur trade, and rather promptly married into an important Ojibway family, espousing Ozhah-guscoday-wayquay, "The Woman of the Glade", later called Neengay, "My Mother". The Woman of the Glade and John Johnston appear in 1791, the one a girl, the other a trader in the prime of life; the book closes with the death of their granddaughter Anna Maria Johnston in 1928.

The book explains its title about halfway through:

For the Ojibways were not to be deported, like the Potawatomis, exiled into unfamiliar and hostile territory; they were to stay where they were, in their own country, to be gradually obliterated by the inevitable tide of settlers. There was  one person at the council who realized the fact powerfully if dimply, and this was Neengay. She had done what she could for her people, but her heart was sad.

During most of the book, the Ojibways find themselves on the losing side: for the French against the English at Montreal in 1759; with Pontiac against the English in 1763; with the English against the US in the War of 1812; and with the English and Americans at peace, alone against the steady pressure of the American government and settlers. In the end, their claims to the land are paid off, and they cease to be a nation.

The Johnstons maintain themselves, mostly. John Johnston, having started life as a son of a not especially prosperous Anglo-Irish family, dies as the father of a not especially prosperous American one. His sons do well enough one way and another, as officers of the Canadian navy or as businessmen in a small way. His daughters marry a scholar,  a clergymen, and a rounder.

Nothing especially dramatic happens in the direct narration. Johnston's house is burned by American troops, a son-in-law is murdered. We hear of battles--Ojibway against Sioux, British against American--and massacres, as at Fort Mackinac. Mostly, though, men and women trade, trap, hunt, marry, and farm. 

Janet Lewis published the book in 1932, four years after the death of Anna Maria Johnston, whom she had known from her family's summers at Neebish Island, a little downstream from the Sault.  One can find an account of how Lewis came to write the book in an interview conducted as part of the Stanford Pioneering Women Oral History Project in 1977.

Michigan University Press reprinted The Invasion in 1999. The book remains available, but as far as I can tell the only way to get a new copy is directly through the press itself. It is not hard to find a used copy.

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